The West Kootenays is south-eastern British Columbia, Canada. The area is approximately defined as being the area south of the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy # 1) from Revelstoke and including the valleys of Slocan Lake and Kootenay Lake and at least part of the Arrow Lake valley (Columbia River), as far south as the USA border.
Cities, towns and villages
- 1 Nelson is "the Queen City" of the Kootenays, renowned for its tourism, culture and outdoor activities.
- 2 Castlegar is the crossroads of the Kootenays. Whether you decide to stop here or not, you will likely pass through it if you visit the West Kootenays
- 3 Trail is an industrial town dominated by one of the largest lead-zinc smelters in the world
- 4 Rossland is a picturesque mountain town world famous for its skiing at Red Mountain Resort and also noted for great mountain biking.
- 5 Ainsworth Hot Springs-Balfour are neighbouring communities on west shore of Kootenay Lake, home to natural hot springs and the longest toll-free ferry in the world.
- 6 Creston is at the south end of Kootenay Lake next to some of the best of the limited agricultural areas around this region.
- 7 Christina Lake is on the south end of Christina Lake, the warmest tree-lined lake in Western Canada.
- 8 Grand Forks is a small town near the US border, a convenient food and fuel stop on the Crowsnest Pass Highway.
- 9 Greenwood is a tiny city near the US border, known as the smallest incorporated city in Canada.
- 10 Kaslo is an attractive village on the west shore of Kootenay Lake, nestled between the Purcell Mountains and Selkirk Mountains and home to the world's oldest intact sternwheeler, the SS Moyie.
- 11 Nakusp is a medium-sized town on the east side of Arrow Lakes (Columbia River).
- 12 New Denver is a small village on Slocan Lake, about 45 minutes drive east of Kaslo.
- 13 Salmo is a village equidistant from Nelson, Castlegar, and Trail, known as "the Hub of the Kootenays".
- 1 Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park — lies in an area roughly bounded by the highways connecting Kaslo, New Denver and Nelson. The only official campground near the most-visited part of the park is at Kaslo Lake. The Kokanee Cabin can be found a few hours hike from the Gibson Lake trailhead. Access in summer is a hiking trail and in winter by helicopter as it is also a popular backcountry skiing destination.
- 2 Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area — a river delta wetland near Creston; it is predominantly marshland, and is a wetland of international importance and a globally significant Important Bird Area.
- 3 Stagleap Provincial Park — a protected habitat for mountain caribou.
- 4 Syringa Provincial Park — it has a rocky beach and has amenities for boating, camping, and hiking.
In general, the West Kootenays is a little more remote and a little more difficult to get into and travel around than some of the more populated parts of the province. You will probably find that the residents of this area live here at least partly because that's what they like. Winding roads require somewhat slower travel. If locals have one complaint, especially during tourist season, it's about visitors roaring about, making excessive noise and generally making the highways unsafe and unpleasant. To fully appreciate the place, visitors need to slow down, relax and enjoy what the region has to offer. There's little interest in seeing the frantic bustle of the big city imported here by visitors in too much of a hurry.
The West Kootenays doesn't include the Columbia River and Kootenay River Valley south of Golden to Cranbrook. This is the East Kootenays. It's very nice, but it's not the West Kootenays.
- You may hear the phrase Kootenay Time used occasionally. This may be interpreted as "I'll get there when I get there" or "It will happen when it happens". You may find some shops that aren't always open right on time. Relax. It's not usually a crisis.
- The ubiquitous FSR. This is a Forest Service Road or, more commonly, a logging road, which is what these roads were built to service. They are often identified by brown Forest Service signs, they seem to be everywhere and they are the only real access into the backcountry. Many are rough and steep and require high clearance vehicles. Maybe a vehicle that doesn't have a paint job you're unusually fond of. If there is active logging going on, you may also meet large trucks with loads of logs. You can get lost or stuck. Caution is advised.
- By plane - the only airport served by a major carrier is West Kootenay Regional Airport (YCG IATA) in Castlegar. Air Canada Express is the only major airline available with flights to Vancouver, the Okanagan and Calgary. There is a smaller airstrip near Trail which has a commercial operation connecting to Vancouver. Private planes could also land at strips in Kaslo, Nelson and Creston.
- By road - by heading south from Revelstoke towards Nakusp or from Hwy 3 through Creston or Trail.
- By bus - Mountain Man Mike's Bus Service from Vancouver. Service from Calgary is suspended as of Jan 2021.
The easiest way to see the Kootenays is by private vehicle. There is very limited public transit in this region. Some routes are pretty quiet so hitch-hiking could be chancy, especially late in the day and outside the main tourist season. In the summer, it's a popular destination for motorcyclists. Some hardier types will enjoy biking in the area, just be aware that the hills will give you a good workout.
BC Transit operates the West Kooteney Transit System which runs within and between many towns.
The West Kootenays have multiple, toll-free ferries located its larger lakes.
- 1 Kootenay Lake Ferry (Kootenay Lake), Balfour–Kootenay Bay (Highway 3A; 35 km (22 mi) east of Nelson or 81 km (50 mi) north of Creston). Longest toll-free ferry in the world, crossing time of about 35 minutes. Sailings are about every 50 minutes during the summer and every 100 minutes during the winter.
- 2 Needles Ferry (Lower Arrow Lake), Needles–Fauquier (Highway 6; 59 km (37 mi) south of Nakusp or 135 km (84 mi) east of Vernon (in Okanagan)). Sailings are every 30 minutes with a crossing time of 5 minutes.
- 3 Upper Arrow Lake Ferry (Upper Arrow Lake), Shelter Bay–Galena Bay (Highway 23; 48 km (30 mi) north of Nakusp or 52 km (32 mi) south of Revelstoke (in Columbia-Rockies)). Sailings are every 30 minutes with a crossing time of 20 minutes.
The area generally has quite stunning scenery. Details are contained in the listings for many of the towns in the region.
Nelson, the region's largest town, has been called the "Number One Small Town Arts Community in Canada", and is home to a large and diverse artisan community, while Castlegar hosts its annual Sculpturewalk, a rotating exhibition of hundreds of sculptures and artworks by international artists.
In Salmo, you can see the World’s Largest Penny, and the World’s Oldest Phone Booth, made from a hollowed out cedar tree from the Trout Lake area. Also in Salmo, Shambhala, the largest electronic music festival in Canada, is held during the first week of August.
Kaslo hosts the SS Moyie, the world's oldest intact passenger sternwheeler.
The Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre in New Denver tells the story of over 22,000 Japanese Canadians who were forcibly relocated during World War II to an internment camp.
The Rossland Mining Museum & Gold Mine Tour is an underground tour of the old Le Roi Gold Mine that last operated in 1929.
There are many reasons to visit the West Kootenays. The longer one stays, the more opportunities appear. In addition to the most noticeable such as the various provincial parks, towns and local ski hills, there are many backcountry trails which really expose you to some of the wilderness that remains in this part of the province. There is a trails guidebook which is a good start, but repeated visits and contact with the locals can get you into some quite amazing destinations. Accessing many of these areas often requires a high-clearance vehicle, travel on logging roads and good maps, just to sort out where to go.
The Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area is a protected flood plain that has been returned into a productive wildlife and waterfowl habitat.
Stagleap Provincial Park (west of Creston) plays a key role in protecting habitat for endangered mountain caribou.
Syringa Creek Provincial Park (northwest of Castlegar) has a large sandy beach. It protects provincially significant interior Douglas-fir forests and preserves one of the few remaining examples of grassland ecosystems in the Kootenays.
Near Trail, there are many popular hiking and biking trails around Violin Lake and Champion Lakes Provincial Park area.
The Nakusp Hot Springshave two pools fed by water from natural mineral springs set in the forest a ways from the pools.
If all you want is the usual fast food, the West Kootenays has the usual complement of fast food outlets, but it is possible to do better than that.
All of the communities in the region have at least a few good to excellent establishments serving a pretty wide selection of food. There isn't really a regional cuisine but many of the establishments cater to vegetarians and to omnivores, many take the trouble to source locally-grown produce and some have created some pretty unique menu items.
There are at lots of brewing companies in the West Kootenays:
Trail Beer Refinery, 1299 Bay Ave, Trail, BC
Rossland Beer Company, 1990F Columbia Ave, Rossland, BC
Erie Creek Brewing Company, 117 Fourth St, Salmo, BC
Tailout Brewing, 1810 8th Ave Unit A, Castlegar, BC
Torchlight Brewing Co., 125 Hall St, Nelson, BC
Nelson Brewing Company, 512 Latimer St, Nelson, BC
Backroads Brewing Co., 460 Baker St, Nelson, BC
Angry Hen Brewing Co., 343 Front St, Kaslo, BC
Wild North Brewing Co., 125 16 Ave N, Creston, BC
Columbia Brewing Co. (Macro), 1220 Erickson Rd, Creston, BC
Given this choice, make it a point to sample some of the local brews while travelling in the region.
The region isn't well known for wineries; there just isn't the heat or the soil available here the way there is in the Okanagan. However, despite that, there are at least two wineries in the region: Columbia Gardens Vineyard & Winery just south of Trail and Skimmerhorn Winery & Vineyard in Creston.
There are few things (in the normal sense) to worry about when traveling in the West Kootenays. Crime is infrequent and the people are friendly and helpful. The main hazards are generally associated with the mountain environment that makes up the West Kootenays. Roads are often narrow and winding and there can be hazards from falling rocks and avalanches (in winter). There is wildlife in the area like grizzly bears, black bears, elk and mountain lions. If you venture off into the backcountry, then you must be prepared for wilderness conditions. As in most mountainous regions, weather can change quickly, the terrain is difficult and steep and it can take longer to get to your destination than you might expect.
- Whitewater Winter Resort is the nordic and alpine ski area closest to Nelson, about a 15-minute drive. The area claims to get about 45 ft (14 m) of snow during the winter and if you get a chance to experience skiing after a good snowfall, you will start to appreciate what the locals call a "powder day". Powder days can be pretty busy on the hill because many locals will put everything aside, including the work day, to get out and carve some turns on days like those.